Some of my parishioners have been asking me to post my sermons (I actually call them my reflections) on line. In order to meet their request, I'll now make a habit of posting my reflections under my Sunday postings. Here is the reflection I gave on January 4, 2008.
Surveys have shown that by last Wednesday, roughly 50% of all Americans established New Year’s Resolutions for themselves. I was not one of them.
“And why is that?” you might wonder. “Do we have a pastor that’s a little short on resolve? A little undisciplined?”
Perhaps. But those aren’t the reasons I resist making a resolution each year. You want to know the real reason I don’t make any resolutions for myself? It goes back to something that happened right here in Denver 13 years ago. Let me tell you what happened, and why it turned me off to the notion of resolutions.
Thirteen years ago, The United Methodist Church held their global meeting – their General Conference –here in Denver. And at the time of that meeting, there was one social issue that had caught the nation’s attention. The issue? Same-gender marriage. Congress was on the verge of passing President Clinton’s Defense of Marriage Act, and many faith communities – including the United Methodist Church – thought they had to do something to show their support of the principles behind that Act.
Feelings were split almost down the middle at General Conference that year. Half of the delegates felt that any proposal brought forward would be a mean spirited, “jump-on-them-while-their-down” sort of display directed against the LGBT community; the other half of the felt such action was their moral duty. It seemed for days as if the delegates were at an impasse.
But then someone proposed what they thought was a brilliant strategy that could appease both sides of that contentious debate. Let me give you a little background so you can understand that strategy.
You see the United Methodist Church has two books that inform its life. The first is called The Book of Discipline, and it sets out the rules that every local church must follow. The second is The Book of Resolutions. It merely puts forth suggestions for local churches to follow.
Why don’t we put the prohibition on same-gender marriage in The Book of Resolutions? it was proposed. That’ll please those who feel compelled to take some action against same-gender marriage. And by putting it in the Book of Resolutions (instead of the Book of Discipline), we’ll also please those who oppose such action since resolutions have no real power.
As I followed the debate and watched it turn on that technicality, I thought to myself – “How sad that - even in our churches - the word ‘resolution’ no longer means anything!” Ever since then, I’ve made a point of striking the word resolution from my vocabulary.
Of course the word resolution isn’t the only word that’s come to be watered down over the years. There’s another word that has also come to be watered down a great deal – even in our churches.
The word epiphany was first used by the church to mean “the appearance or manifestation of God”. It was used to commemorate the scholars visit to the baby Jesus following his birth. The event was so important to the life of the early church that its observance actually predated the celebration of Christmas!
But then something started to happen over time. The word moved beyond the realm of Christianity into the secular realm. And over time – its meaning began to change until finally the word now means: “a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something”.
So what effect did this shift in meaning – a shift from where epiphany meant a manifestation of God to simply a sudden perception - have on our spiritual lives?
A profound one!
You see when you look at the word epiphany in its original context, the word had much more punch to it. For when put into the context of the Christmas story as a whole, you realize the word epiphany wasn’t just a sudden, one time event such as the moment when the scholars first saw the star. No, the word epiphany also included the radical life-change that followed the experience of seeing that star.
In its secular context, however, that link between perception and life-change is no longer made. By emphasizing just the suddenness of a thought, we begin to buy into the notion that simply seeing the star is enough.
That’s why over the years I’ve come to believe the single most powerful Communion service of the year is the Communion service we hold on Epiphany Sunday. I believe that because the act of Communion helps us reject the notion that simply seeing the star – simply paying lip-service to the manifestation of God - is enough. Communion reminds us that the experience of seeing that star must elicit from us the same thing that it elicited from the scholars: a response. Communion also reminds us that while God will make Godself known to us wherever we are – God will never leave us in that same place. God will call us to new places.
And so friends, in this season of Epiphany that stretches between now and Ash Wednesday on February 25, if we must make a New Year’s Resolution – let us resolve this: that we will never settle for merely a glimpse of God’s glory. Instead, let us resolve to do what the scholar did: pursue that glory - wherever it may lead!